Stink bug bill passes House committee

By Ryan Cornell

Last July broke the record for the hottest month in Virginia’s history. This summer — if the rumors turn out to be true — another record could be broken: the worst invasion of stink bugs since their introduction to the commonwealth in 2005.

A leader in the war against stink bugs, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10, wants to make sure this doesn’t happen. In an annual spending bill that was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Wolf included language ordering the Department of Agriculture to make combating stink bugs a top priority.

“The apple industry in the mid-Atlantic states has lost tens of millions of dollars to these pests,” Wolf said in a release. “And they threaten the vineyards that are an important part of Virginia’s economy.”

The bill, which heads to the full House later this month, directs four agencies within the USDA to continue research on ways to minimize stink bug damage on crops and directs the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to assist with implementing biological control technology to control the pests once it is developed.

Supposedly the “ground zero” of stink bugs, the Shenandoah Valley seems to be all buzz and no bite. Jeff Fortune, of Pest Management Services Inc. in Winchester, said there’s been a number of calls about stink bugs from the Markham and Linden area, but overall, people aren’t seeing them as much as last year.

Stink bugs also have been noticeably absent from Paugh’s Orchard in Quicksburg. Owner Harold Paugh said that he’s found a few inside his house, but none in his apple and peach fields.

“It’s a little bit too early for them to be getting on the fruit,” he said. “The apples haven’t ripened yet.”

While that might be the case, the tree fruit pests are usually in a feeding frenzy this time of the year. In late May and early June of 2011, mid-Atlantic fruit researchers were reporting damage levels two months ahead of those in 2010.

Cherie Calvert of Markham shared one suggestion for getting rid of the pests. She said spraying the outside of a house with soapy water works by getting under the stinkbugs’ wings and instantly suffocating them. “Best to not step on any of them because some stink and some stain and it’s not the greatest,” she said.

John Marker, owner of Marker Miller Orchards in Winchester, has been experiencing the bugs for the past three years and said he’s seen a few more now than last year.

“There’s only one thing you can do, well actually there are two things you can do,” Marker said. “The main thing we do is spray more often. About the only thing else is to step on them or smash them with bricks.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com